When it comes to the black community and queerness, the common proverb-the more things change, the more they stay the same- provides much truth.
Just yesterday N.B.A. player Jason Collins released his inspiring coming-out story. In this piece, Collins outlined his voyage to self-acceptance, his loving and supportive family and friends and his thoughts on moving forward. Personally, I found his story quite inspirational and moving. Nonetheless, as more and more black public figures come out, I find it disheartening that nothing has really changed for the queer community.
It is not a new phenomenon that queer people do not have the political power their heterosexual counterparts do. It is not a new concept that queer people of color often experience double marginalization both within their specific ethnic group and the larger overall populace. Within the context of the black community, this double marginalization is especially pervasive. However, with the onslaught of black public figures-more recently with Jason Collins- coming out of the proverbial closet, one would intuitively think that black people are actively accepting their queer brothers and sisters. Please understand that this is a false misnomer for a number of reasons. Regardless of the number of delightful coming-out-stories, the black community is still slow to accept black queer people.
Consider the heteronormativity of a number of figures that are coming out. Jason Collins-a tall, dark, and handsome basketball player – is literally as heteronormative as they come. Sure, it is easy to accept queer people when they don’t show any visible markers of their homosexuality. In fact, Collins recognizes this reality. In his piece in Sport Illustrated, Collins claims that he “goes against the gay stereotype.” Despite Collins’ homosexuality, his unique positioning, in terms of visibility (or lack there of), grants him particular leniency. Those that do demonstrate visible markers of their sexuality are, on a communal level, still actively repudiated.
Now this is not to say that the black community is especially homophobic. Historically, and even today, black sexuality is viewed under a lens by greater society. I would argue, as a number of academic scholars have, that the perceived homophobia of the black community is actually a reaction to the homophobia of greater society. For many in the black community, staying sexually conservative is to stay under the radar. In a society where black sexuality is viewed as especially taboo -black men are depicted as animalistic and black women viewed as hypersexual- acceptance of black queers would only lead to more judgement and shaming of the black community. In this light, it is no surprise that the black community is slow to accept queer black people. This is especially true of the black church which has used its support of “traditional families” as a way to show mainstream America that blacks are just as moral as white families. Consider the nonexistent/slow reaction to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And don’t even get me started on the 40 percent of queer homeless youth-a large segment of which is black- who are been thrown out of their homes by un-accepting families and suffer disproportionately from inner-city violence and poverty.
While I am delighted to hear about the brave actions of Collins, it is important that we not romanticize similar equally inspiring coming-out stories and develop false conclusions on the state of black queer people within the black community. Discrimination and marginalization are still prevalent phenomenons facing black queer people. In society, demonization and repugnance are still commonly held sentiments especially for black queer people. Because of this, I feel I must ring the resounding, but also somewhat pessimistic bell of wisdom and state the common proverb: the more things change, they more they stay the same.